San Cristóbal Island is the fifth largest, most easterly and most historic of all the Galapagos Islands. Geologically, it is the oldest island in the archipelago, formed more than one million years ago by the fusion of three or four volcanoes.
San Cristóbal is also home to the oldest permanent settlement in the Galapagos: the farming community of El Progreso, where some 500 people still live. It is also famous for being the place where Charles Darwin first went ashore in 1835.
The island’s main town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (pop. 6,672), is the capital and administrative center of the Galapagos Province. As such, it’s the location for many of the archipelago’s government offices and administrative buildings, in which many of the local inhabitants work. The town is also home to plenty of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops catering to the large number of tourists who visit the island. These include surfers, who come for the waves at Tongo Reef and other popular surf spots near the town.
Main Visitor Sites
Interpretation Center — Located a short walk north of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the Interpretation Center, quite possibly the best place in the archipelago to learn about the natural and cultural history of the Galapagos Islands. It also highlights ongoing projects to help preserve this unique and fragile ecosystem.
Cerro Brujo — This beautiful location in the north of San Cristóbal was one of the first visited by Charles Darwin. Cerro Brujo (Witch Hill) is a perfect spot for hiking, while the nearby white-sand beach is ideal for relaxing, snorkeling, kayaking and wildlife spotting. It’s easy to spot sea lions and marine iguanas, as well as a variety of coastal and migratory birds including pelicans, blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, finches and mockingbirds.
Punta Pitt — Punta Pitt (Pitt Point) juts out in the far northeast of the island. It’s a fantastic place to watch sea lions, but is more famous as one of the best bird-spotting locations in the entire archipelago. This is the only place in the Galapagos where all three types of boobies — red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca — nest together. You can also see frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls and storm petrels.
Cerro Tijeretas — Head north along the coast from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and past the Interpretation Center and you’ll arrive at Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill). It’s one of the few placed in the Galapagos where you’ll see magnificent frigatebirds and great frigatebirds living together. It takes about 45 minutes to walk to the top of the hill from the town center, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views from the top.
El Junco Lagoon — El Junco is actually a crater lake rather than a lagoon, but the first settlers weren’t too concerned about such technicalities. They were far more concerned about access to fresh water, and El Junco is the largest such repository in the Galapagos. The first permanent settlements on the island, and in the archipelago as a whole, were heavily reliant on this source of fresh water, as were U.S. forces stationed on Baltra Island during World War II. The trip up to El Junco takes you through farming communities, including the historic El Progreso. The lagoon itself is a fine spot for bird watching, being home to white-cheeked pintail ducks, common gallinules, bathing frigatebirds and endangered Chatham mockingbirds.
Puerto Grande — Puerto Grande sits halfway along the western coast of San Cristóbal. It’s a picturesque cove where blue-footed boobies feed, and where hermit crabs gather near the lagoons behind the beach. It also has a reputation for buried treasure, and treasure hunters have come here in search of hidden riches for many, many years.
Puerto Chino — Located on the southeast coast of San Cristóbal, Puerto Chino has one of the prettiest beaches on the island. A road cuts directly east across the island from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to Puerto Chino. Visitors often take enough supplies to stay at the beach for the whole day, swimming, walking and relaxing.
Isla Lobos — This islet is named for the sea lions, or lobos marinos, that often congregate here in a large, playful colony. It’s a one-hour boat ride from San Cristóbal, but well worth the trip if you want to see sea lions, fur seals, frigatebirds and nesting blue-footed boobies.
San Cristóbal Island Hotels
Read more about San Cristóbal Island at Galapagos Conservancy.
Other Places to Visit in Galapagos
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